“I wanted to call you every day,” I said.

“You know, I don’t care if you got a girlfriend,” she said. “I mean, I want you all for myself but I need to see you sometime and I don’t mind if that has to be when you say.”

She had thought about it as much as I had. She’d made concessions in her own mind and offered them up to me. But I had other ideas. And where Juanda’s thoughts were young and about the light of love, my deliberations were of a much darker cast. I’d been thinking about Nola and Geneva and the lucky one, Benita—the woman who survived. I was thinking about Honey, who killed a boy that she’d help to raise, and Jocelyn, who hated the skin she came in and the blood that spawned her.

“There’s no way I could have you on the side, Juanda,” I said. “I love you the way you are and I want you to do the best you can. I went to LACC the other day and they have a high school equivalency program there. You can get your diploma and then start taking college classes.”

“I cain’t afford that,” she said.

I took out the envelope with the money Mouse had given me. That and the ring I handed to the young woman.

“I can’t be with you the way we both want to be,” I said. “But I’d like to help you get through this school thing and see you be what you want to be.”

There was no moment of weakness with Juanda. No secret assignation, no one-time love in the dark. We talked for a long time about the envelope between us. I talked to her about the riots and the dead women and the hatred we have for ourselves.

When I finished she said, “You know, I love the way you talk, Mr. Rawlins. You done talked the dress off my back and then talked it back on my shoulders. I’ll take your money if you promise to be my friend.”

“You better watch out, girl,” I said. “You might just make me into a happy man.”

WALTER MOSLEY is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series of mysteries and numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. He has received a Grammy Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Award, among other honors. He was born in Los Angeles and lives in New York.

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